Assessing our discretionary visa release campaign

On April 20th DHS announced its intention to release an additional 22,000 H-2B visas for the 2021 season with 6,000 of these visas reserved for nationals of the Northern Triangle countries of Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. This is holy insufficient to meet the demand for 60,000+ visas. If DOL has certified that there are no willing and qualified American workers for the over 98,000 positions it has certified, then why would DHS not release the number of visas for every position DOL has certified? All releasing 22,000 visas will do is pick winners and losers among struggling seasonal employers. DHS should have released all the visas if they believed there truly is a labor shortage faced by these employers or if not, released none. It is hard to understand the rationale in releasing 22,000 visas.

We did everything we could to convince the administration to release the full number of visas. While we are disappointed in the end result, there is little more we could have done to effect the outcome. The administration made a political decision in an effort to placate the unions who vehemently opposed DHS releasing any visas and that of the seasonal employer community.

It is important that we remember all the work that we did. It was a true team effort. Well done! Overview:

  • Executed robust grassroots outreach effort  of our House and Senate Democratic supporters.
    • 38 meetings as of April 12th
    • 294 emails from SEA members to their members of Congress
    • Confirmed with DHS that 34 Senate offices have reached out to DHS requesting it release the full number of visas authorized
  • Congressional letters:
  • March 1st: Sent letter, in conjunction with the National Association of Landscape Professionals, to DHS Secretary Mayorkas requesting DHS release all 69,320 visas it is authorized to release
  • March 22nd: Organized and executed Tweetathon
  • March 23rd: Met with the White House Domestic Policy Council
  • April 1st: Held second Tweetathon
  • April 7th-19th: Released series of videos of capped out seasonal employers calling on President Bident to #ReleasetheVisas
  • April 8th: Sent economic impact survey results to DHS and DOL officials
  • April 20th: DHS announces its intention to release an additional 22,000 H-2B visas

We expended a tremendous amount of time, resources and political capital trying to convince the administration to release the additional visas. And all for a paltry 22,000 visas? We had no choice but this does underscore the fact that we must obtain a permanent fix and not depend on the Biden or any other administration to bail us out. The discretionary language is not sustainable.

We expect to have two bills introduced in short order that, if passed, will offer seasonal employers permanent (or close to) labor certainty. In the House, Rep. Cueller plans to introduce an H-2B reform bill that includes a Returning Worker Expemption with a three year lookback and in the Senate, Senator Graham plans to introduce a bill that will transfer a number of occupations, including landscaping, into the uncapped H-2A program. 100% of our frustration and determination should be channeled into advocating for attaching these bills into the first moving piece of legislation.

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